Our “Bestiary”

Terrorist Screening Databases (TSDB)

A spider-like creature with 8 legs and 3 cartoonish eyes. The body of the creature consists of the circular insignia for the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center.

The “terrorist watch list,” maintained by the Department of Justice’s FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), includes biographical or biometric information of around one million people who are “known or suspected terrorists,”Footnote 1 as well as their “relatives, associates, or others closely connected” to them.Footnote 2 The standards used by the government, the evidence considered, and the list itself are secret. A person discovers that they are listed only at the point when they are denied the ability to fly, for instance.Footnote 3

The American Civil Liberties Union writes, “Being placed on a U.S. government watchlist can mean an inability to travel by air or sea; invasive screening at airports; denial of a US visa or permission to enter to the United States; and detention and questioning by US or foreign authorities — to say nothing of shame, fear, uncertainty, and denigration as a terrorism suspect.”Footnote 4

Today, everyone who applies for a US visa or who travels through a US border crossing — or from, to, or over the US in on a commercial flight — is screened against this watchlist, also known as the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB).Footnote 5

The TSDBFootnote 1 was created in 2003 to consolidate separate watch lists that were created and compiled by various federal agencies, including the FBI, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Treasury.Footnote 6 There are still multiple watch lists today, but the TSDB is reportedly larger and separate from the more publicized, government-created No-Fly list, Selectee list (which mandates that a person be questioned and screened individually before being allowed to board an aircraft), and the Expanded Selectee list.Footnote 7 Private airlines also keep their own No-fly lists.Footnote 8 Portions of the TSDB are exported to other Department of Homeland Security data systems in federal agencies that perform screening, including ATS, USCIS’ data-mining software ATLAS, and ADIS. The database is connected to NCIC and TECS, and is used to populate Department of State data systems that screen all visa applicants.Footnote 9

Individuals who have found themselves stopped at airports for secondary inspection due their names appearing on a watch list include Senator Edward Kennedy, the late Georgia Congressman John Lewis, Alaska Congressman Don Young, and Yusuf Islam (the pop star formerly known as Cat Stevens).Footnote 10  






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